Morningside, MD – Back in 2015, a loose block of concrete fell onto a Maryland woman’s car as she drove under the Capital Beltway. The chunk of concrete came from the underside of a bridge that is decades old in Morningside. Since then, the Maryland State Highway Administration has begun the design process for a new, more stable bridge.
The woman driving was unharmed, but her very nearly fatal accident still serves as a reminder that neglecting highway infrastructure can have potentially fatal consequences. Tending to these roadway issues is a long, expensive, and tedious process. But the fact remains that it needs to be done.
There are approximately 20,000 bridges in the District, Maryland and Virginia alone. In addition, 3-5% of those bridges are in varying stages of distress and even labeled as structurally deficient by the Federal Highway Administration.
While “structurally deficient” doesn’t necessarily mean a bridge is in danger of collapsing, these bridges can still pose very real safety threats to Maryland citizens. The Maryland State Highway Administration performs routine bridge inspections to determine if there are new cracks, concrete deterioration, erosion, or other structural deficiencies. Bridges with a structurally deficient label are inspected at least once annually.
One of the bridges in need of immediate work is the Arlington Memorial Bridge. While its elegant facade remains intact, the internal structure is crumbling. In seven out of nine surveyed regions, poured concrete is the most commonly used outdoor surface, but touch-ups are often a requirement after so long.
After severe steel corrosion was discovered on the bridge’s underbelly in 2015, an emergency 10-ton weight limit, as well as 24/7 lane closures, were immediately put into effect.
The National Park Service warned that if immediate action wasn’t taken to repair the bridge, it would need to be shut down by 2021 for the safety of everyone. One bridge might not seem like a sign of growing infrastructure needs, but potholes and other road issues across the state have opened everyone’s eyes to just how much work needs to go into repairing the roads.
As far as the Arlington Memorial Bridge goes, funding for its repair is underway. “If we are successful, that [project] brings the investment through that program up to $150 million on Memorial Bridge, well on our way to the $250 million project,” said Jenny Anzelmo-Sarles with the Park Service.